In our effort to create Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most comprehensive nonprofit directory, we came across hundreds of amazing organizations. Naturally, we wanted to share their inspiring stories.
In this series, we aim to highlight the hard-working organizations, the good people, the selfless volunteers, the helpers, the healers, the listeners, the comforters and all the great work they do. We hope that, through these stories, you too will be inspired to lend your time, your hands and your hearts. Follow along as we take a look beyond the mission statement.
“Growing a Sustainable Community”
Jane Risse, Executive Director of The Greenhouse Project in Scranton, was teaching a group of kids how to prepare a garden bed when they came across a surprise.
“The first time they went to dig in the ground, they thought the worms were snakes. They had never really dug a garden,” she recalled. “And I’m not kidding, they thought the tomatoes were apples.”
It might sound silly—just kids being kids—but the story has a serious side. In a world where everything comes pre-packaged from a supermarket, fresh and wholesome food is becoming a rarity.
“And it isn’t just children or teens. Adults are like that also. When you realize how people have become so disconnected from where their food comes from, it’s a problem, and it’s what we’re trying to solve,” said Risse.
The Greenhouse Project organizes gardening demos, community gardens and cooking classes to help close the gap between people and the land. But the work doesn’t end after the harvest. This nonprofit cultivates good health in every aspect, bringing healthy eating, active living and creativity together at one community hub.
Sowing the Seeds for a Healthier Life
Small steps toward healthy living can help the entire city to thrive.
The Greenhouse Project started off as a small, humble team of volunteers who pitched in wherever they could, from running after-school programs to helping at the food pantry. In 2013, they moved into their current home at the James Barrett McNulty Greenhouse, a 3000-square-foot facility in Nay Aug Park. The space had been vacant for years, but it soon started to burst with new life.
When we visited in March, the greenhouse was already filled with rows of hanging baskets, aromatic herbs and lush vegetable plants (we were told that they have 31 varieties of tomatoes alone). Volunteers Lydia Bagdonas and Brady Dempsey were busy watering seedlings for the upcoming plant sale, which is always a major fundraiser. All of the plants are organic and heirloom, which are usually hard to find.
“‘Heirloom’ means you can save the seed year after year. It’s an old variety. It’s been around fifty or more years, whereas a lot of modern plants are modified,” explained Risse.
The Greenhouse Project is truly a local resource, not just for picking up plants for your garden, but also for learning how to get started in the first place. Education has always been at the heart of the organization, and they continue to expand their programs on gardening and nutrition. A teaching garden outside the greenhouse provides a space for horticulture classes, while a monthly program called Empowered Eating guides people through the basics of plant-based diets. This year, The Greenhouse Project also plans on installing a demo kitchen to create a true garden-to-table experience.
Beyond the greenhouse walls, the nonprofit also manages two community gardens in the Hill Section. The plots provide enough space for dozens of families to grow their own produce.
Nourishing the Body & Mind
Healthy eating, exercise and inner wellbeing are all keys to good health.
Physical and emotional health go hand in hand, which is why the Greenhouse Project also hosts creative writing workshops, arts programs and yoga classes. The stillness and tranquility of the greenhouse is the perfect setting to nurture inner peace and creativity.
Risse described The Greenhouse Project as an “organic organization.” When volunteers step forward with a program idea, the greenhouse gives them a space to catch root and grow.
“The community that has grown around this. It never ceases to amaze me,” said Program Director, Kimberly Crafton. “For some reason, everything about this place calls the best out of people to come together and do these things on a small scale, but with a heart for seeding something much bigger.”
The Greenhouse Project is looking forward to new programs on the horizon for 2021. In July and August, they’ll hold a weekly Food Arts Market in Nay Aug Park. Every Wednesday night, local farmers and vendors will sell fresh produce and artisan foods. They’ll also have culinary classes and theatre programs each week. The market will correspond with the park’s summer concert series as the perfect way to bring health, food and culture together.
The Greenhouse Project is also launching exciting new events at Lackawanna State Park. They’ve already started their popular Solace Walks, which are geared toward anyone dealing with grief or isolation. These guided sessions give people time to process their emotions, reflect together and connect with other nature lovers (and to make it even better, you’re welcome to bring your dog). This summer, they also plan on holding kayaking classes at park.
Cultivating Hope During COVID
Even in the pandemic, The Greenhouse Project stayed rooted in the community.
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the backyard gardening boom that came with it—revealed that The Greenhouse Project was more vital than ever. For some people, gardening was a fun hobby during lockdown. But for others, it was a way to fight food insecurity.
“When the grocery store shelves were empty and when there were supply chain issues and people were panicking, it was clear to me that our focus for now was food,” said Risse. “I thought that’s the real purpose for us: the connection between food, a healthy planet and healthy people.”
Last year, people eagerly came out for the spring plant sales and bought seedlings for their coronavirus “victory gardens.” The Greenhouse Project also offered online gardening classes that year, which were a lifeline for first-timers. And instead of clearing their calendar, The Greenhouse Project quickly adapted to hosting virtual programs via Zoom.
“We were going from an organization that was literally hands-in, hands-on and personal. How do we translate that to what could be looked at as a very impersonal platform?” said Crafton. “There were classes in writing and art and cooking and things that you could do while you were at home. Especially for seniors, it was a way to be a bulwark against the isolation and that feeling of fear and uncertainty that everybody was feeling. It gave them something really positive to think about and continue to nourish their own growth in that time.”
This season, the Greenhouse Project is transitioning back to in-person, socially distanced events. Some events are still available online.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Get involved! The Greenhouse Project has room for every talent and interest.
The Greenhouse Project proves that planting one small seed of change can set off a chain reaction.
“We are here, trying to make our community a better place to live in and trying to grow the community we want to live in,” said Crafton.
Do your part and help NEPA flourish. You can support The Greenhouse Project by giving a donation or volunteering your time. They’re also open to considering new board members.
“We want people to jump in and make it what they want it to be,” said Risse. “We all have to take an active role in growing it.”
You can also support The Greenhouse Project by purchasing items from their plant sales or attending an event. Check their Facebook page for a complete list of upcoming classes and programs.